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The challenges of trying to build (and launch!) satellites from Australia

Updated: Jun 20, 2019

The chief challenges the Melbourne Space Program (MSP) has faced in our quest to launch a satellite concern all the legal and regulatory obstacles that are involved in the process.

As Blake Fuller, the Engineering Manager of the MSP said: “Australia's framework for space infrastructure is severely limited and we have had huge issues, such as gaining our telecommunication license, legal contract with the launch provider, dealing with insurance bodies, technical requirements and general guidance from industry experts."

Lots to deal with!

It’s especially difficult since Australia doesn’t have a national space agency. Space startups in the USA can be assisted in these matters by NASA, but we have had to personally make the arrangements and form the relevant partnerships.

Another issue that’s unique to us in Australia is the fact that the space legislation hasn't been amended since 1998(the Space Activities Act 1998). This legislation was made way before the current surge in startups in the space industry.

“The legislation works well for big companies, but presents many problems for smaller enterprises,” says MSP's Regulatory Manager, Anna Bohacova.

This is illustrated by the fact that the Act requires a company to get insurance to cover the liability of up to $750 million before launching; which is difficult for small companies and startups to attain.

Those seeking to build and launch satellites in Australia would also be disappointed to see the lack of relevant facilities available. There’s currently only one test facility in Australia, which is located in Canberra, that can simulate the environment of space to see how CubeSats cope. Australia also has no sites to launch commercial rockets; so, we had to organise a launch from the USA.

The space simulator in the Advanced Instrumentation Technology Centre. The only one of its kind in Australia!
Wombat XL in Advanced Instrumentation and Technology Centre. Credit: Australian National University

With the fact that we’re a group of young people trying to launch a satellite in a non-space country, we have also encountered some road-blocking scepticism.

According to Andrew Wetherell the MSP’s Acting Director, we “ have had potential sponsors laugh at the idea of Australian students designing and launching their own satellite, saying they would be surprised if it got 20m off the ground.”

It is this scepticism towards our project and team that can make it difficult to find backers who are willing to invest and believe in us.  

“It becomes a trade to separate the noise and figure out who really will support you,” Andrew says.

MSP Volunteers

And MSP will continue to figure out solutions to these challenges until we successfully launch the ACRUX-1!

Compiled and written by: Markos Hasiotis

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